Thursday, June 14, 2007

London Joint Union Pay Rally (in real time)

Here is a new attempt at live blogging from Friends' Meeting House in Euston, where something of the order of 150 union activists have gathered this evening - invited by London branches of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) to hear speakers from the NUT, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and UNISON (among others no doubt) addressing the crisis in public sector pay.

My first observation is that the carbon footprint of the meeting must be massive given the number of leaflets on our chairs. As I write several dozen people have arrived at the meeting, including UNISON Regional Secretary Linda Perks and Convenor Alan Jarman (who will be addressing us later), so I shall revise upwards my estimate of attendance. The Small meeting room at Friends Meeting House (which is certainly not small) is fairly full now and people are beginning to have to sit on the floor.

And we still haven't started... (at 6.40pm)

First update. The Chair (from East London Teachers Association) is welcoming us to the rally - particularly welcoming the presence of members from a number of different unions.

The NUT prioritised pay at their Conference at Easter and want to develop a campaign across all the unions to fight for public sector pay. She is welcoming the support of London Region PCS and UNISON.

Teachers are concerned that the Government increases pressure on us to improve public services without agreeing to pay us for it.

Alan Johnson has insulted teachers by refusing to reopen discussions about teachers' pay in the light of rising inflation. Johnson claims that the Government cannot reopen discussion on below inflation pay increases for teachers because "this would take money away from vulnerable children". Teachers are angry about this (I hope the UNISON speaker doesn't argue for support for UNISON's candidate for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party...!)

The real reason Johnson has refused fair pay to teachers is to try to avoid a united public sector pay campaign.

A sound introduction to the meeting! (at 6.46pm)

Second update

The first speaker is Mark Bouch (sorry if I got the name wrong...) from the the CWU NEC, who is being warmly welcomed as CWU have voted for strike action over pay in Royal Mail.

He says that the struggle is not just over pay it is also about job cuts and the Government's attitude to public services. The Government are seeking to impose a below inflation pay increase on postal workers whilst attacking jobs and conditions of service.

Adam Crozier says that postal workers are 25% overpaid and 40% under worked - he is the boss of Royal Mail on £790,000 a year with the option of £248,000 in bonuses - his total package this year is over a million quid! (How many letters does he deliver for this?)

Posties in Inner London are on just over four hundred quid a week - including London Weighting.

The CWU is also a dispute about the future of the Post Office as a public service. The Government - and the Government appointed regulator POSTCOMM - are pushing for liberalisation of postal services.

Royal Mail faces another 40,000 job losses on top of 40,000 jobs already lost in recent years. There are proposals to lose many post offices and sorting offices and to abandon the Universal Service Obligation (which means that Royal Mail has to deliver our letters every day).

The CWU want us to boycott WH Smiths as they are planning to take over post offices.

The CWU NEC have agree to allow Royal Mail one last chance to come back to the negotiating table. The employers have been in denial about the recent ballot results and so the Union have given them an ultimatum - strike days will be set at the end of next week unless Royal Mail give ground.

It looks like a long dispute and the CWU hope for combined strike action with other unions.

It is now 7pm.

Third update.

Alan Jarman is now speaking as UNISON Greater London Regional Convenor. Unfortunately he won't be able to stay for long.

Alan reports that the Government have staged a below inflation increase awarded by a Pay Review Body for the first time in Health. The PRB awarded 2.5% and the Government are staging even this real terms pay cut! This is a kick in the teeth to low paid workers.

Alan describes the Scottish decision to implement 2.5% in one go as "very fair" (though it is still of course a pay cut in real terms...?) Staging will save the NHS £200 million.

Some NHS Foundation trusts are implementing 2.5% in one go, as in Scotland. (Of course the Health Service Group Conference is opposed to 2.5% even if it is in one go...)

Morale in the NHS is very low. This won't assist the Government's reform agenda as loyal and long serving staff are leaving.

UNISON and the RCN ("the major unions") are working together and planning an industrial action ballot in September.

Alan is now turning to the more complicated position in local government. The headline claim (as regular readers of this blog will now) was for 5% or £1,000 to which the employers responded with a 2% offer and subsequent to the rejection of this indicating that 2.5% of the pay bill might be available. They would prefer to offer 2% across the board and to use the remaining 0.5% to assist the low paid.

This leaves our members "in a state of flux" and are therefore angry. Alan is concered that there is no firm offer from the employers. He doesn't know the latest on an industrial action ballot in local government.

Which is a shame as there is a decision of the Service Group about this and consultation with local government branches is currently underway...

It is now 7.10pm and Alan has had to leave, so he will miss Mark Serwotka, who is about to speak.

Mark Serwotka has congratulated the organisers of the meeting on the attendance (which is growing all the time - over 250 now for sure, maybe towards 300) apparently this includes a majority of the PCS NEC. I can see one other UNISON NEC member (guess who?)

Mark has woken the meeting up from a somewhat silent period to win sustained applause for reasoned and reasonable attacks upon a Government which can find money for Trident submarines but not for public services.

He is calling on the Government to cherish and respect public servants.

The Government is acting in the most disgraceful way and they should be ashamed of the way in which they are acting.

PCS have had to wage a campaign because the Government are making attacks on public services which "would have made Margaret Thatcher blush". Having started by savaging 100,000 jobs in the civil service, Gordon Brown now wants another 12.5% cuts - in some cases this is doubling the job cuts required in departments.

(A good job UNISON is not here this evening to promote our nominee for Labour Leader...)

In addition to these job cuts, the public services face an onslaught of privatisation. Having cut 40,000 jobs from the Department for Work and Pensions there are no longer enough staff to deliver the services, so the Government are bringing in private companies and charities to run core services.

Following on from attacks on pensions, civil servants now face attacks on pay. PCS have 20,000 members earning the National Minimum Wage! In addition the Government are trying to force through Regional pay to cut pay outside the South East. In the Courts Service differentials across the country would have amounted to up to 20% if the employers get away with their proposals.

The Government are also pushing forward individual contracts to break collective bargaining in the civil service.

PCS members are prepared to fight and to take action. There have been three national strikes in the past two years. In the DWP low paid workers have taken fifteen strikes in three years. In the Ministry of Defence there have been three strikes in four months!

Today in Chichester PCS members have walked out on unofficial strike (much applause at that).

PCS is now consulting members on escalating the action against the Government - if other Unions will fight at the same time we will be in a much stronger position.

Mark says that Gordon Brown's appalling attacks on the public sector have given us the opportunity to unite.

Our members are not the cause of inflation - we are the victims of inflation. When the Governor of the Bank of England explained increasing inflation he attributed this to energy prices and firms pushing prices up - he didn't blame public sector workers!

Mark says that Gordon Brown is a hypocrite and that anyone who believes he will make things better are wrong. The policies we have had to strike against have not been the policies of Tony Blair but the policies of Gordon Brown.

Brown did not condemn £8.8 Billion in city bonuses - but he can tell nurses, teachers and civil servants to take low pay to keep inflation down.

It is not enough to agree that Gordon Brown is wrong, we have to agree about what we are going to do - together - about this. PCS have written to other Unions to ask for meetings to discuss organising joint action. Meetings at leadership level are important but we need to match these with meetings around the country like the rally we are at this evening.

We could bring our disputes together in the autumn with a coordinated campaign of industrial action - Mark has already met with Dave Ward and Billy Hayes of the CWU and have agreed in principle to coordinate further action between the Royal Mail and the civil service.

That really earned some applause (it's 7.33pm)

Bill Greenshields of the NUT NEC is now speaking on behalf of Steve Sinnot, their General Secretary. He has pledged that the NUT will meet with any union to organise joint action on public sector pay.

He is reiterating the lesson of the pensions dispute - that united action can win.

Bill is now reading from the letter from Alan Johnson who refused to allow the Review Body to reopen consideration of teachers' pay. I've not heard Bill address a large meeting before and he is wittily demolishing the Government's arguments against reopening the debate on teachers' pay.

The Government are showing the same contempt for public sector pay as they have been showing for the public sector. We should have no illusions in Pay Review Bodies - we need to struggle for fair pay. The way to determine pay is not to rely upon review bodies but through strong trade unions organising our members and cooperating.

(I hope that UNISON colleagues will also come to this sensible conclusion!)

We need to replicate this rally around the country because we are about to embark upon a massive fight with the incoming Brown administration - we will face many hostile arguments from the Government who will accuse us of taking money away from public services, of threatening the chances of re-election of a Labour Government etc.

A stirring and well received contribution (it's now 7.44pm).

The first contribution from the floor is from our own Jean Geldart, Chair of UNISON's Local Government Service Group. She can give the report we didn't get earlier - that UNISON Local Government is consulting members with a recommendation to reject the employers offer and to move to industrial action. There will be an industrial action ballot in August leading to strike action in September.

We have a job of work to be done to alert our members and mobilise them for action. Jean expects that we will be on strike in September.

Sean Bellow (if I got the name right?) a speaker from the NEC of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) is the second speaker from the floor. UCU are heading for a special pay Conference in September at which they hope to move to strike action against a 2.5% pay offer in Higher Education. In Further Education many colleges do not even implement national pay awards. UCU want to work together with larger Unions in order to win fair pay for their members.

(7.50pm)

Further update - Linda Taafe from the NUT NEC is speaking. Linda says that we have a cast iron case in our favour. (There are easily 300 plus people here now I would say). The NUT are advising their branches up and down the country to organise meetings such as this evening's meeting - Linda welcomes this but also thinks that now is the time to be taking strike action as PCS and CWU are planning to.

Alan Johnson's insult to teachers amounts to a challenge to take strike action. She is alluding to strategic discussions which need to take place at the NUT NEC next week.

The next speaker is Marion Lloyd from the PCS NEC who is applauding the strong response of PCS members to calls for strike action by civil servants many of whom have very little long term tradition of taking action. PCS activists are very serious about the high stakes in the current struggle and about the opportunities which we have. There is a great difference between the current leadership of PCS and previous leaderships of civil service unions in terms of a willingness to lead members in a fight.

7.56pm now.

Glenn Kelly is now speaking from the floor, as a UNISON NEC member (yes, he is the one other). Glenn is making the obvious point that UNISON shouldn't be backing Brown and Johnson (true) but then draws the conclusion that we should break from the Labour Party (false). Glenn is rightly pointing out that health workers in UNISON are not opposed only to the staging of the 2.5% pay award but also to the 2.5% itself.

Unity is important but must not be an excuse for delay (though no one here seems to be suggesting that).

Kevin Courtenay, NUT NEC and a key organiser of this meeting is speaking. He is reminding us that a similar meeting in January 2005 was key to bringing together unity over public service pensions. Characteristically Kevin is focusing on concrete steps which we can take from here on in. Joint union meetings in schools can take place now.

Phoebe Watkins from the UNISON London Regional Committee is speaking - she reminds the meeting, since it hasn't yet been mentioned, that UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis wrote to PCS Conference expressing solidarity. Phoebe is optimistic that we can win our members to take action and stresses that we need to publicise each others' disputes to our members.

(8.05pm)

A PCS speaker from Hastings now has the floor and is explaining the impact of cuts in public services in his area. He is rightly saying that meetings such as this should take place in every town in the country.

Alex Kenny from the NUT is now speaking. This is the first step in the campaign and he is trying to get people to fill in their details to be kept in touch. Alex is formally moving a statement which has been circulated, drafted building on NUT policy and intended to guide the work of activists across a number of unions.

We are committing ourselves to organise further joint activity and also to organise solidarity wherever any group of workers are taking action about pay. Teachers won't be taking action this term but can support those (postal workers, civil servants) who will - as can health and local government workers.

(8.11pm)

It's hot and tiring in this meeting (even for those not blogging...)

An NUT speaker is pointing out that we should support postal workers because postal workers always respect our picket lines. (too true!)

We are on to the last speaker (good as people are beginning to drift off now...) he is a PCS activist who wants us to share information about union activists between unions so that we can coordinate things at a local level.

The meeting has just voted unanimously to support the statement moved by Alex Kenny :)

This is a large, serious and significant meeting which has taken an important decision.

I hope that the speakers will be brief in summing up. Bill Greenshields concludes that we need to use the weapon of strike action to inflict maximum damage - and that we need to build up members' support for strike action. We have to convince people who are not yet convinced of the need for action. We can win.

Mark Serwotka warns us that the Government will attempt "divide and rule" tactics and will also claim that we risk the election of a Tory Government - Gordon Brown told a recent meeting with the unions that "however bad it is it will be worse under the Tories". Mark says we have to respond by saying that that argument cuts no ice with us. (Quite right too).

PCS are aiming to launch a petition for all public service workers and users to defend public services.

We must support the CWU - Mark repeats to strong applause the point about the CWU respecting picket lines. We must support PCS members taking action.

This has been one of the best meetings Mark has been to for some time - but we have to take the spirit of this meeting back into our workplaces tomorrow, to lift the spirits of our members and their willingness to fight.

We could see a turning of the tide and see our unions resurgent and united.

Mark from CWU is starting with an apology from CWU.

For spawning Alan Johnson!

He is reporting on the very sensible decision of CWU Conference to overturn their NEC's support for Johnson. As an NEC member he was censured over this, but feels that it was worth having been censured for!

It has been an excellent meeting which shows the potential for united action by public service unions.

I hope we see some of the same spirit at UNISON Conference in Brighton next week!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I totally forgot about this. Was it on the UNISON region web site? If not, why not?

Anonymous said...

No Anon UNISON dont want to publicise anything that would help our members!

Lets not be silly thats why the London regional convenor doesn't actually no (or care) about what the latest position is as long as the UNISON bureacracy still get their sweet deals within the LP for their own careers.
I notice forom your report John that Alans puppet master was not far behind - surely she would have known the latest position to be able to tell him what to say??

What a good job Jean Geldart was their otherwise that would have been another cross union meeting where UNISON look like fools.

Nick said...

Thanks, Jon, for such a thorough and interesting report. It is strange, though, that you report a UNISON representative describing the decision of the Scottish executive to impose the 2.5% pay award in Scotland as "fair" - the unions in Scotland have, I understand, described it as "unacceptable". I don't have my thesaurus to hand, but from memory those two words are not exactly synonyms.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering what the definition of 'ordinary members' is? Or perhaps John Gray is implying we have so many extraordinary members in UNISON -which is nice!